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Going Green - The Dry Cleaning Dilemma E-mail
Written by Dana Adkins   

Most posts I have put up have been all about going green clothing, but I realized none of them have touched on taking care of them.  A lot of clothes have the dry clean only label, and after delving further into the dry cleaning world, I came across some staggering statistics.  Dry cleaning is just as harmful to society as cotton farms, and as a result, “green” dry cleaning companies are being formed, but have yet to mark their mark on society like green clothing has.  There was one company in particular that made an impact on me when I read the article and that was “Hangers Cleaners”.

“Hangers Cleaners” is the newest green dry cleaners.  They use a biodegradable soap dissolved in liquefied carbon dioxide.  It’s completely harmless though, and is even safe enough that it is used to decaffeinate coffee and make soft drinks fizz.  Hangers is also a high profile model of “green chemistry”.  “Green chemistry” is the unofficial name government officials gave to various programs whose goal is to wean society off of noxious chemicals, which started up in the early 1990’s.

In 1997, Hangers technology won the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Challenge Award, but unfortunately that was still not enough to take the Hangers franchise to the next level.  The projected expansion was supposed to be in 40 more areas, yet has fulfilled a significantly less amount, and only about a handful of stores has opened.

Joseph M. DeSimone is a professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State and is the main man behind the “Hangers” operation.  He is one of the many researchers investigating compressed or liquefied carbon dioxide as a substitute for more hazardous chemicals.  Along with two former students, DeSimone formed Micell as alternative use to these chemicals.  One such chemical it can replace is perchloroethylene, which is the most harmful chemical used in dry cleaning, also known as perc.

Perc can cause cancer and other ailments for cleaning workers and even residents of nearby buildings.  Perc vapors and discharges also contaminate ground water.  It also earned a reputation as a versatile and powerful degreaser during World War Two and replaced the petroleum-based solvents that had been fire hazards in the 1950’s.  By the 1990’s, dry cleaners were the main leading source of this pollution. 

Regrettably, dry cleaners have managed to look past this point, and still use perc systems, mainly because it is more cost efficient.  Micell’s equipment is not only a 10-ton rectangle of pipes,  pumps, etc, and can not fit in many dry cleaners quarters, but it also costs 150,000 dollars a unit.  Perc systems, that handle similar sized loads, cost only 60,000 dollars per unit.  Add to that, the state the economy is in now, and that makes many dry cleaners averse to investing in a new more expensive product.

Since the technology is there to relinquish the hold perc has over many dry cleaners, the next step in the right direction is marketing.  Sam Brickle, who is a 62 year old Rhode Island industrialist bought the rights from Micell to expand the Hangers concept in New England, and is working a new marketing strategy.  His efforts, as well though, have not been up to par with his expectations.  In recent months, three Hanger shops have opened in New England, and hopes of soon totaling to 25 shops within a 20 mile radius.  If this revolution could take off the ground the contamination perc is leaving behind not only on people, but also on our earth, could be diminished completely.